Socializing through the ages: Great Lakes History Conference to explore how we communicate, from social media to pretzels

The Internet Age has undeniably brought changes to the ways people socialize, but history can show us that some sociability constants have remained through the ages.

That deep look at sociability is the focus of this year's hybrid Great Lakes History Conference on October 22 and 23. The in-person sessions will be held at the Loosemore Auditorium on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus; there also will be an online option. It is free and open to the public. 

The conference, titled "The History of Sociability," will feature experts examining the ways humans have socialized through four eras: the Medieval World, the Early Modern World, the Modern World and the Internet Age.

The entrance to the Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium, with the name posted above the doors.
The in-person portion of the conference will take place in the Loosemore Auditorium.
Image credit - Valerie Hendrickson

While the idea to explore sociability at the annual conference existed before the pandemic, the ensuing pandemic "only reinforced why we should be doing this," said Peter Dobek, visiting professor of history who is taking the lead in organizing the conference along with Nathan Kapoor, affiliate professor of history.

"In a lot of ways, socializing is fundamental to what makes us human," Dobek said.

The onset of the pandemic required people to innovate and change their modalities of conversation, Dobek said. At the same time, he said, society's ever-growing reliance on the internet, particularly social media, has also illuminated some negative consequences.

But even as we are immersed in these contemporary communication shifts, there is perspective in the long view, he said.

"By looking at this topic across history, we can actually see how things haven't changed too much," Dobek said. "A lot of the institutions are the same, and people still socialize in bars, restaurants and other places."

In fact, the keynote speaker will focus on food as a vehicle for sociability, specifically the pretzel. Scholar William Woys Weaver's speech, titled "The Pretzel as Commensality: Breaking Bread and the Communal Table," will examine the social customs of the snack, dating back to its European roots.

Dobek said the conference spans many disciplines and a wide array of speakers, making it an event that appeals both to academics and the general public.

Though the event is free, organizers request that participants register. Visit the conference's event page to register.


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